Radiant Expectation

This sermon will be the very first preached at Radiant - a new worship gathering for young adults that is being launched by my church on August 26th... 

I've attended thousands of church services in hundreds of churches, listened to more than my share of youth talks, Sunday school lessons and whatnot, not to mention all of the chapel services I attended at the Christian schools I went to, and I can't even begin to tell you how many of them included a moment where the pastor or preacher would preface whatever they were about to tell me with these words... "The Bible says..."

The trouble with beginning our conversations about faith, God, Jesus and Christianity with those words is that they have a way of coming back on us.  "The Bible says..." a lot of things.  And one thing I've discovered over the years is that not many Christians I know came to know Jesus because they were blown away by the words, "The Bible says..."

Now, don't get me wrong----I love the Bible.  I study it for a living---sort of.  I believe that it speaks to us through the power of God's Holy Spirit in this incredible way that we can only describe as "inspired."

But I would rather begin our conversations about faith, life, God, Jesus and Christianity here at Radiant with these words...

"This is what Jesus said..."

The thing about Jesus is that he had a pretty strange way of teaching.  He answered questions with questions, and had this habit of addressing really serious theological issues by telling stories.  His first century audience got what he was trying to do because that's sort of how rabbis in the first century taught---by asking questions and telling stories.  

In fact, the ancient Hebrew scholars were far more comfortable with ambiguity than we typically imagine.  There's an old story of two rabbis who spent most of their lives arguing over the meaning of a passage of Scripture.  God finally grew so weary of their bickering that He appeared to them both in a flash of light and said in a booming voice, "I am now prepared to tell you the real meaning of this text that you've been fighting about for so many years!"  To which the two rabbis instantly replied, "What right do you have to do such a thing?  Isn't this what you created us to do?  How dare you tell us the meaning now?"  

But sometimes Jesus' way of teaching seems somewhat odd to us, doesn't it?  

For example, near the end of his ministry Jesus was teaching his disciples about what it meant to live in radiant expectation.  To live the kind of life that is full of abundance---abundant joy, abundant, hope, peace, love...  

Only he taught them in stories...  Like this one:
25 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)
We could spend a lot of time dissecting this passage, uncovering the cultural meaning and digging up some ancient Greek words with obscure meanings---and that would be pretty cool to me...

But maybe it would be even better if we just listened to what Jesus was saying here, and not over think it that much.

First, of all this story that Jesus told was not a warning to be ready later.  It was a warning to be ready now.  And I know this because I know that in the Gospel of Matthew "readiness" means living the life of the kingdom of God---in other words, the quality of life that Jesus describes on the Sermon on the Mount.   Which in essence is this:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4 Blessed are those who mourn,    for they will be comforted.5 Blessed are the meek,    for they will inherit the earth.6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,    for they will be filled.7 Blessed are the merciful,    for they will be shown mercy.8 Blessed are the pure in heart,    for they will see God.9 Blessed are the peacemakers,    for they will be called children of God.10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Anyone can live this kind of life for a short while.  Almost anyone at least.

But then we realize that Jesus didn't want his followers to live this way just for a little while---and that living a life full of this kind of expectation is what one pastor has described as a "long obedience in the right direction..."

That's when things get tricky.

Being a peacemaker for a day isn't as demanding as being the one year after year when the fighting and hostility around us doesn't seem to end.

Being merciful for one moment is all well and good, but being merciful for a lifetime is something altogether different, isn't it?

Let's get back to the story that Jesus told about the bridesmaids.  What's easy to miss in this story is the fact that all of the bridesmaids were ready for the wedding.  They were all dressed and ready to go---only five of them didn't bring enough oil to keep their lamps lit for the long haul.  The other five, however, came prepared to live in radiant expectation regardless how long they had to wait for the groom.

It was the waiting that got to them, wasn't it?  It's what gets to so many of us who are in the Church, to be honest.  We've become so focused on defining what it means to be ready in our own terms that we've totally glossed over what Jesus was saying here.

Why is it that the Church seems to let us down so frequently?  Why is is that so many people have decided to either leave church or to never even go?  Is it because we have become irrelevant?  ARe we too divided?  Do we care more about making a point than about making a difference?

Or maybe it's because we don't arrive ready to wait on the bridegroom with radiant expectation.

The Church I grew up in assumed this passage was about getting the words right.  It was about praying the right formula prayer, and being able to remember exactly when you did that.  It was about having a testimony that you could share for the purpose of helping other people get the words right, too.  The Church I grew up in figured that this passage was also about having your doctrines and beliefs lined up with theirs...

They never got that this was about living in Radiant Expectation in order to experience what God is doing right here, right now, all around us.

So, what is Radiant all about?

I don't like defining things by what they are not----I've had so much of that in my life in the Church.  But I feel like we need to say these two things that Radiant isn't...

First, we are not concerned bout what we're not...  and we're not concerned about what you're not.  Frankly, what you're not isn't interesting.  When you define your beliefs about what they are not---you lose the opportunity to be truly compelling.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is better than what we're not.  So when we walk around saying that who we are is a group of people who don't believe certain things, or don't agree with other people who believe certain things... we've completely missed the point.

Second, we're not caught up in denominations...  I am an ordained minister in a particular denomination, and I pastor a church that is within that denomination.  But what I also know is that Jesus didn't die on the cross and was raised from the dead to create denominations.  I think Jesus groans a little every time we try to further define all the ways that our denomination differs from other denominations.  Honestly, why should unchurched people who need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ so that they can turn from sorrow to joy, from hopelessness to hope care about why our particular form of baptism is better than anyone else's... or our way of saying the Lord's Prayer is superior... or our views on women in ministry... or a number of other things that are simply opinions...  Isn't it about time that we all started focusing on what we do know---that Jesus came to redeem broken, hurting people, and when those broken hurting people start living like him they can change the world.  

Third, here's something that we do believe.  We believe in having enough oil to shine the light of Christ while we live in expectation of what comes next.  I know a lot of Christians who believe that they are strangers in a strange land.  They don't want to fit in, despite all of Paul's teachings that they do.  They hear verses like "be in the world, but not of the world" and they forget the "be in the world" part.  I also know Christians who have grown disillusioned with the Church and it's inability to show love to the world, and have walked away from God altogether.  In both cases, these believers acted as the foolish bridesmaids.  They had just enough oil to get them through the first few hours of waiting, but when it was apparent they were going to have to be committed to a longer wait... they were found wanting.

Listen, this world may not be our ultimate home if we believe the words of Jesus... but we're called to do just a little more than "pass through" it.

That's why we pursued the vision for this community of faith.  We believe that "Church" can be different.  We... can be different.  It's about living in Radiant Expectation together.  It's more than just coming to a worship service---although that's a huge part of it.

Imagine being in a relationship with someone, but never spending any time together.  So many of us want to be in a relationship with God, we might even declare ourselves to be spiritual even though we're not that religious... yet we don't feel the need to come and worship, to hear beautiful music, to pray, to share, to hear a word or two to teach us how to follow Jesus more fully....

But worship isn't the end of it.  We want to learn how to do life together better---to fellowship, to break bread once in a while to laugh together, cry together and love the world together.

And we want to serve together.  To find places in the world that need healing, where God is at work and moving----and go join Him there to do his work in the world.

I invite you to come share the light with us.  To learn more about what it means to lead lives of Radiant Expectation.  Walk with us, share your gifts... we are all welcomed as we are, but we also realize that God loves us far too much to let us stay that way.   
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